Barack Obama heads to Africa for his first extended trip to the continent on Wednesday — a tour of three democratic nations that will offer a mix of cultural tourism and diplomacy.
After touching down in Senegal, the United States’ first black president will visit the Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves) on the island of Goree.
The island, known as Senegambia in the past, served as a strategic point for the brutal slave trade to the Americas.
“His visit to the island will be incredibly symbolic,” said Professor Ousmane Sene, a director at the West African Research Center in Dakar, the country’s capital.
Promoting democracy will also be at the top of the administration’s agenda when Obama meets Senegal’s new president, Macky Sall, who came to power last year, Sene said.
“At one point there was a concern that the last president, Abdoulaye Wade, might not go if he was defeated,” Sene said. “So I’m a sure his visit will stimulate and encourage civic values among the Senegalese people to keep us on the right track.”
Neighboring Mali, where a 12,000 strong U.N. force will begin peacekeeping duties next month, will also likely be a talking point between the two leaders. Over the last 18 months, Islamist and Tuareg rebels launched a revolt and the military carried out a coup.
After the al Qaeda-linked Islamists seized the north of the country, 4,000 French troops arrived in mid-January to dislodge them at the request of military leader, Amadou Sanogo.
Sene said Senegal was seen as a good democratic role model for Mali, where elections take place next month.
“We are providing a great example of good governance, which is marketable in Mali and all over West Africa,” he said.
South Africa will be the next stop on the tour on Friday and Obama is expected to discuss the economic and political ties that link the two countries.
Read more: NBC News